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Israel names first gay speaker – but new government includes anti-LGBTQ+ ministers

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New Israeli Knesset speaker Amir Ohana

The Israeli legislature has elected Amir Ohana as its first out gay speaker as a number of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians are made cabinet members.

Ohana, a close ally of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was nominated as speaker of the Knesset in a decisive vote of 63-5 on Thursday.

Addressing the legislature, Ohana said: “I pledge to do my best to be worthy of the trust you put in me”.

He also promised that the incoming government would not infringe on LGBTQ+ rights, saying: “This Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, won’t hurt them or any other family, period.”

However, his promises did little to assuage fears among many LGBTQ+ Israelis. Netanyahu’s new government, a coalition between his Likud party and ultranationalist and anti-LGBTQ+ parties, has been described as the most religious and hardline in Israel’s history.

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Among the appointments to the new cabinet is Avi Maoz, leader of the homophobic Noam party, which has previously linked gay people with child trafficking and compared LGBTQ+ advocates to Nazis.

He recently said that while he wasn’t against LGBTQ+ individuals, he is against “LGBTQ-ism as an agenda and as a political movement”.

Netanyahu
Despite pledges to not restrict LGBT rights, Benjamin Netanyahu has signed coalition agreements that could allow for discrimination on religious grounds (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Maoz, now a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, turned away from Ohama as he made his maiden speech. Another minister in the incoming government, Yoav Ben-Tzur, also expressed concern over Ohana’s sexuality, saying: “We aren’t happy with the path he’s taking but we look at the person and not his tendencies.”

Despite public pledges that LGBTQ+ protections would not be threatened, the coalition agreements outline rollbacks on discrimination laws that could allow goods and service providers to refuse serving people based on religious belief, possibly allowing for homophobic discrimination.

Orit Strock, a member of the far-right Religious Zionism Party and the incoming national missions minister, has already implied doctors will soon have the ability to refuse to treat people, including LGBTQ+ patients, on religious grounds.

Several members of Likud, a right-wing party, have also called for the return of conversion therapy (which was banned this year) and the removal of gender-neutral language.

Concern over the new government’s approach reached boiling point on Thursday (29 December) when over a thousand protestors marched in Tel Aviv after the new coalition government was sworn in.

The Red Line for Hate demonstration, organised by LGBTQ+ activists in Israel, protested anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers in the government and legislature, chanting “We are here and everywhere” and “Homophobia starts in the government offices”.

Last week it was revealed that Maoz had constructed lists of gay media professionals and “leftist” Justice Ministry staff.

Protesters spoke out against the Noam Party lists, with one person, Nadav Bornstein, saying: “This is not an esoteric organization or a fringe party. The people who drew up these lists are responsible for the education of all of our children.”

Hila Peer, chairwoman of LGBTQ+ task force Aguda, said: “This morning, the sun rose and not long after a great darkness fell over the State of Israel. This is a new moral low for our country.

“The people sworn in to the government who want to take care of our identity in the public sphere are the same ones who create black lists of our friends and community members marking us as targets.”

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